Thanks to a very generous donation from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation in 2021, the Library has been able to digitise more than a dozen iconic performing arts collections. One of these is the extensive papers of renowned stage and costume designer Kristian Fredrikson.

Since it would be impossible to show the full extent of this collection in one blog, here we will highlight some of the costume designs for characters written by William Shakespeare. With 2024 marking 460 years since Shakespeare’s birth, it’s perfect timing to explore the crossover between these two masters of their crafts.

Merchant of Venice 

Let’s start with the Melbourne Theatre Company’s rendition of ‘Merchant of Venice’. Given the play’s plot largely focuses on money, it’s fitting that money was also a concern for the costuming. With a budget of just $2500 and 100 costumes to make, Fredrikson and the rest of the wardrobe team had to be extremely creative and resourceful to pull off what he referred to as ‘a big fakeroo’.

Two costume designs with annotations. On the left, a woman in a black dress with a hood and lots of draping material. On the left, a man in white pants, an orange jacket, a cap and black boots
Costume and set sketches - Merchant of Venice, 1977, from the papers of Kristian Fredrikson, nla.obj-3139275469

Romeo and Juliet 

Next with one of Shakespeare’s most well-known stories, we have costume designs for ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Performed in 1979 by the Nimrod Street Theatre Company, this production ‘caused quite a stir’ for what was described as the ‘tampering’ or ‘de-mystification’ of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Fredrikson’s costumes, however, were praised as ‘models of restraint’, with the 'stripped’ production allowing ‘the words and the action to do their proper jobs’.

Three costume sketches for men. On the left, a close look at a jacket with no shirt underneath, in the middle a shirt with a deep 'v' and on the right robes with vines
Costume and set sketches - Romeo and Juliet, 1979, from the papers of Kristian Fredrikson, nla.obj-3139275084

All’s Well That Ends Well 

Fredrikson’s costumes for the comedy ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ in 1970-71, on the other hand, could be described as nothing less than extravagant. In fact, it was reported that it took the cast two weeks to become comfortable in their costumes, with some of the ‘lavish’ looks weighing more than 19kg.

Two designs for ballgowns, one gold and one black
Costume and set sketches - All's Well That Ends Well, 1970, from the papers of Kristian Fredrikson, nla.obj-3139275528

Twelfth Night 

Another of Shakespeare’s comedies Fredrikson worked on is ‘Twelfth Night’. While not as elaborate as the previous costumes, reviews of the show describe them as ‘quite splendid in the late Rennaissance tradition’. In addition, while construction noise distracted both the actors and the audience in a ‘battle of sounds’ during early performances, the costumes and other visual elements became some of the most praised aspects of the play.

Two costume designs, one for a man the other for a woman, with annotations. The man's costume features a blue and green shirt with puffy sleeves, a brown vest, boots, a blue hat and an optional blue cloak. The woman's costume is an orange gown with a small headpiece.
Costume and set sketches - Twelfth Night, 1968, from the papers of Kristian Fredrikson, nla.obj-3139276048


Finally, let’s take a look at the costume designs for ‘Macbeth’ (for anyone superstitious or reading this in a theatre: ‘The Scottish Play’). Fredrikson was involved in two renditions of this story, a play performed by the Sydney Theatre Company which opened in 1999 and an opera performed by The State Opera of South Australia in 1993, each with a distinct style and tone reflected in their costumes.

Two costume designs, one for a man the other for a woman, with annotations. The man's costume features a crown and a long cape. The woman's costume is a red and blue dress and a crown.
Costume and set sketches - Macbeth, from the papers of Kristian Fredrikson, nla.obj-2541710002 (left), nla.obj-3207345901 (right)

There’s so much more to explore in the worlds of costume design, performing arts and Shakespeare in the collection. Get started with our performing arts research guide, learn about Shakespeare in the Library’s rare books collections or jump right into the catalogue